Heard It on the X
Los Super 7
Telarc ~ 2005
It begins with a strange tale: “My love has fallen and can’t get up, still hung over and won’t wake up.” It’s a joyous and twisted mariachi-flavored tune written by Calexico’s Joey Burns and sung by the Mavericks’ Raul Malo, and it has more foot-tapping bounce to the ounce than anything else released this year.
The El Burro Song blasts this third album by the revolving Tex-Mex/Latino supergroup Los Super 7 to a dizzying height. Heard It on the X would deserve a place among the year’s best albums for that tune alone, but it keeps up that superior pace through the final plea from venerable Texas folk-bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.
This exceptional album is a tribute to border radio. Beginning in the 1930s, high-powered signals coming from south of the U.S.-Mexico border transmitted a cross-cultural melting pot of music that could be heard all across the United States while avoiding governmental regulations. Country music got a big boost from border radio, but the stations also turned listeners on to other styles outside the mainstream, like raw and rootsy blues and Hispanic music. Eventually, those styles would all get mixed up together, becoming the sonic portrait of a geographical location: the Texas-Mexico borderlands.
Heard It on the X travels through that landscape with unrestrained jubilation. You get the feeling that these accomplished musicians are playing songs that they love — and they’re determined to make you love them, too. You can hear it in the way Lyle Lovett banters with Lloyd Maines‘ pedal steel guitar on the fiercely swinging take on the Bob Wills classic My Window Faces the South. It’s there in the yearning tenor of Los Super 7 mainstay Rick Trevino — once a frequent presence on the country charts — which sizzles on Ojitos Traidores and with Freddy Fender, on Cupido.
This supergroup with ever-changing personnel (no longer limited to seven) is less a band than a bilingual concept and boundary-crossing vision. The third and most rambunctious release under the Los Super Seven banner takes its title from the ZZ Top anthem celebrating the Mexican border radio of the 1950s and ’60s. With the title track sung by Tejano mainstay Ruben Ramos, the transgenerational duet on “Cupid” by Freddy Fender and Rick Trevino, and the alcohol-fueled mariachi of “The El Burro Song” performed by the Mavericks‘ Raul Malo (a ringer of Cuban descent), the Hispanic imprint on the project remains much in evidence. From the northern side of the musical border, Lyle Lovett revives Bob Wills‘s “My Window Faces the South,” Rodney Crowell renews Buddy Holly‘s “Learning the Game,” and Joe Ely covers Holly acolyte Bobby Fuller‘s “Let Her Dance.”
Perhaps the album’s dominant influence is that of the late Doug Sahm, whose Sir Douglas Quintet was a Tex-Mex trailblazer. Sahm’s spirit is channeled here through two songs he wrote–“I’m Not that Kat (Anymore),” sung by John Hiatt, and the jazzy “The Song of Everything,” performed by Raul Malo–and another one he recorded, “Talk to Me,” given a soulful reading by Delbert McClinton. However wide the musical range, the results rarely fall short of super. –Don McLeese
‘Heard It on the X’ ~~~ NPR
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Los Super Seven is more of a concept than a regular band. Its lineup is constantly changing. Since the late ’90s, Los Super Seven has brought together big-name contemporary musicians. “Heard It on the X” is their third album. It features country crooner Lyle Lovett and blues man Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, among others. David Greenberger has a review.
DAVID GREENBERGER reporting:
The album is a tribute to the golden age of radio along the US-Mexico border. From the 1930s through the mid-1980s, renegade American broadcasters built and operated superpowered stations just south of the border. Out of the country and beyond the reach of the federal regulations, these so-called border blasters challenged America’s media establishment with edgy, eclectic programming and signals powerful enough to reach listeners across the country.
(Soundbite of “Heard It on the X”)
GREENBERGER: Raucous deejays, evangelists and pitchmen of all sorts were staples, along with the wonderful diversity of music. On this CD, the visionary behind Los Super Seven, Dan Goodman, and collaborator Rick Clark sought to capture that diversity with a wide-ranging mix of country, blues, various Latin genres and rock. Los Super Seven veteran Ruben Ramos sings the title track. It’s a cover of ZZ Top’s tribute to border radio called “Heard It on the X”; the X because, like all radio stations in Mexico, the names of these stations begin with X.
Before the Internet brought the world together, there was border radio. These mega-watt “border blaster” stations, set up just across the Mexican border to evade U.S. regulations, beamed programming across the United States and as far away as South America, Japan, and Western Europe.
This book traces the eventful history of border radio from its founding in the 1930s by “goat-gland doctor” J. R. Brinkley to the glory days of Wolfman Jack in the 1960s. Along the way, it shows how border broadcasters pioneered direct sales advertising, helped prove the power of electronic media as a political tool, aided in spreading the popularity of country music, rhythm and blues, and rock, and laid the foundations for today’s electronic church. The authors have revised the text to include even more first-hand information and a larger selection of photographs.